EASTERN CAR MAKERS are staging an attack on the established European brands, and they look set to take some big scalps.
Yesterday’s news that Chinese car maker Great Wall are to start selling their Steed pick-up truck in the UK, the first Chinese brand to do so, marks the start of a momentus tide change for the European car market. Be it the far east, or just eastern Europe, the future is changing positively for buyers wallets, but it could spell disaster for the establishment.
Let’s take a look at China first. It was the Japanese, way back in the 1970s and 1980s that opened the way for Asian cars to make it big in Europe. Over the decades, the likes of Datsun (and then Nissan), Toyota and Honda have grown to become some of the biggest car makers in the world and have established themselves (and Japan as a nation) as a byword for reliability.
With the Japaese cars now well established it opened the door for South Korea, with Hyundai and Kia, to come in. They started with the philosophy of selling “cheap ‘n’ cheerful” cars; they did indeed have plenty of the former but not so much of the latter. But now, you’ll find Kia and Hyundai badges attatched to cars of very high quality indeed.
European buyers then, are open to buying cars from Asia, however the Chinese makers may struggle a little more thanks to a reputation (rightly or wrongly) for knock-off designer labels and a somewhat questionable regime. Which is why they’re coming in cheap. I mean, a four-wheel-drive, four-seat pick-up truck with heated leather seat, air conditioning, MP3/Bluetooth radio and plenty of other toys besides for under £14k? That’s a mighty hard offer to turn down.
Great Wall aren’t the only ones, Geely are looking to enter the UK market soon and let’s not forget who owns the recently reborn MG. Plus, if the Chinese brands can grow and improve at the same rate as the Korean and Japanese brands did then they will surely be a force to be reckoned with.
Renault’s Romanian based budget brand are also about to launch in the UK having already done so successfully in other European countries, and they could land an even more deadly blow than the Chinese.
It all starts with the rather handsome Duster 4×4 (top) which will go on sale later this year starting at under £10,000, that’s cheaper than even the most basic VW Polo and £5,000 less than an entry level Skoda Yeti (bottom), surely its closest rival.
Following the Duster will be the Sandero supermini (above) and the Lodgy seven-seat MPV (below), both of which will undercut rivals by considerable margins.
Why Dacia pose the biggest threat of all is that they are not only cheaper than the Chinese cars, but they come with some reputation too. They are based on proven and tested Renault/Nissan mechanicals and will be sold through Renault dealerships. Not only this but Dacias have already launched in other European countries and are selling extremely well; anyone who’s stepped foot in mainland Europe in the past couple of years can’t not have noticed Dacias everywhere they turn.
SO, WHO’S MOST AT RISK?
Well, several major players could be in trouble if Dacia and the Chinese brands take off in the UK. Most at risk are likely to be Peugeot, SEAT and Skoda. Peugeot have been struggling for sales for a good few years now and are risking it all on a new model offensive to try and recapture their former glory. SEAT and Skoda were previously seen as VW’s stylish and budget brands respectively, but in recent years SEATs haven’t had the style appeal they once had and have been down in the doldrums at the bottom of the sales charts.
Skoda on the other hand have been having huge success, producing cars of very high quality and growing year on year. However, they’re no longer the bargains they once were and Dacia have kind of stolen their “bit”. Buyers looking for a small SUV might opt for the super-cheap Dacia Duster or the upmarket VW Tiguan, leaving the Yeti as a bit of a piggy-in-the-middle with no real niche to fill any more.
Other mainstream manufacturers like Ford and Vuaxhall can’t rest on their laurels either, these budget brands pose a serious threat to everyone’s sales figures.
What’s going to happen then? Well, only time will tell but ultimately it’s the buying public that will determine the future. All I’ll say is this; a proper-sized, family SUV for less than the cost of a supermini will be a very tempting proposition indeed for a significant percentage of the population.